Criminological research has a long and distinguished history in Oxford. It is now over 50 years since criminological teaching and research was established in Oxford by the first Reader in Criminology, Dr Max Grünhut. His successor, Dr Nigel Walker, established a Penal Research Unit in 1966, and in 1971 it became a department of the University. Three years after Dr Roger Hood was appointed to the Readership in 1973, the Penal Research Unit moved to Bevington Road and changed its name to the Centre for Criminological Research (CCR) to reflect the broader range of interests and research activities of its members. In 1991, the CCR became an integral department within the Law Faculty. Professor Hood retired in September 2003, but remains active in research as an Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College and a Research Associate of the Centre for Criminology.

Until the start of the new millennium, the work of the Centre was largely devoted to research, and its members carried out a range of projects funded by the Home Office, the Youth Justice Board, the Legal Services Commission, the Nuffield Foundation and the Thames Valley Criminal Justice Board, amongst others. The Centre thus earned a reputation as one of the UK’s foremost departments of criminology through the publication of high quality research on a wide range of topics. It has made major contributions, from empirical, theoretical and historical perspectives, to the fields of victimisation, prisons, policing, restorative justice, parole, sentencing, the death penalty, probation and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.

In 2005 the centre was renamed the Centre for Criminology to reflect the contribution its members now make in criminological research and teaching. In July 2005, Professor Ian Loader joined the Centre as its new Director, this was taken over in 2012 by Professor Carolyn Hoyle before Professor Mary Bosworth became the Director in September 2017. The Centre moved to a purpose built facility in the St Cross Building in early 2017. The move brought the centre closer to the Law Faculty enabling even greater cooperation and coincided with the 50th Anniversary celebrated throughout the 2016/17 academic year.